LONDON: Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola had to settle for only the third draw in their 20 managerial meetings as Liverpool forced a 1-1 Premier League draw away to Manchester City.
But it was Liverpool who could draw more satisfaction even though the draw saw Leicester replace them at the top of the table courtesy of their own victory over Wolves. Liverpool are only one point off the pace and remain five points clear of a City team who are probably still their most dangerous title challengers.
City had won their past three home league games against the Reds with an overwhelming 11:1 goals aggregate but they rarely threatened to improve that record. In the second half both teams betrayed signs of fatigue in this strangest footballing year.
Liverpool manager Klopp, ahead of kickoff, had described the confrontation between the last two champions of the Premier League as “the hardest fixture in the world.” He remembered all too well that Liverpool had been badly beaten 4-0 at City just after they had ensured a first league title in 30 years.
The most intriguing selection issue concerned whether Klopp would maintain his long-held faith in Roberto Firmino or prefer Diogo Jota who had been enjoying a streak of superb form.
The Portuguese summer signing from Wolves had scored six goals in his previous four games in all competitions. These goals included a hat-trick only five days earlier against Atalanta in the Champions League in Italy. In the event Klopp decided to play both men, effectively switching to an attack-minded 4-2-3-1 formation with captain Jordan Henderson and Ginio Wijnaldum the midfield pair.
Liverpool pressed from the start and were rewarded in the 12th minute. Sadio Mane cut into the City penalty box and was bundled to the ground by Kyle Walker. Referee Craig Pawson awarded a penalty despite City’s vain claims that they should have had a free kick minutes earlier at the other end for Jota’s trip on Sterling.
Mo Salah, unaffected, thumped home his fifth penalty of the season to the evident frustration of Guardiola.
City struggled to bring their attacking players into the game until the 31st minute. Then the vulnerability of Liverpool’s two-man midfield allowed Kevin de Bruyne the time and space to pick out Jesus. The Brazilian turned Gomez to stab his second league goal of term past Allison.
Unlucky Gomez then conceded a 41st-minute penalty when a right-wing cross from De Bruyne struck his arm. Referee Pawson awarded the kick after viewing the pitchside monitor only for De Bruyne to pulled his kick wide of Allison’s right-hand post.
Both goalkeepers Allison and City’s Ederson were busy at the start of the second half in heavy rain as City began to take command. They should have taken the lead in the 55th minute but Jesus headed badly wide from Joao Cancelo’s near-post cross. Then De Bruyne fired over the bar.
The hour mark saw the first changes. Klopp replaced the largely ineffective Firmino with Xherdan Shaqiri and the injured Trent Alexander-Arnold with James Milner. Guardiola sent on Bernardo Silva in place of Torres.
Harry Kane is proving unstoppable.
In midweek he scored his 200th goal in his 300th game for Tottenham in the Europa League against Ludogorets and followed up with his 150th Premier League goal to earn a 1:0 win at West Brom. The goal maintained Spurs’ 100pc away league record from a game in which manager Jose Mourinho started Kane, Heung-min Son and newly re-signed Gareth Bale for the first time.